Three Faces of Mentorship
Three men. Delt brothers whose bonds extend far beyond fraternity walls, recently came together in Columbus, Indiana, to talk about life’s journey and the opportunities to make a difference through mentorship, hard work and a passionate commitment to their communities. And, yes, to reminisce about their days in the Delt chapter at Indiana University.
Three mayors. Each followed a vastly different career path to his respective city’s top seat.
Incidentally, as young men looking forward to their post-collegiate careers, none of the three aspired to become the mayor. But with an open mind throughout their professional journey, all three answered the call when the opportunity arose.
Although each journey is personal, with twists and turns making each one unique, one common theme that appeared throughout was mentorship.
The concept of having a mentor can be traced back to Greek mythology, although the term was not widely used in the 70s when George Bray, Greg Ballard and Jim Lienhoop were undergraduates. While each recognizes there were role models along the way, they all admit opportunities were missed, but the concept was one they truly embraced beyond graduation.
George Bray is a businessman with a penchant for sociology. A certified executive coach who spent more than 40 years in pharmaceutical distribution, his career took him to several cities before returning home to Paducah, Ky. — a city of about 25,000. He was the first of the three to start his career after college, but the last to fill the mayoral role, taking his seat at the helm on Jan. 1, 2021.
“I had a mentor that from the first day I graduated from college, took me under his wing until the company was bought,” said Bray. “For 17 years, I started every morning I wasn’t traveling in his office. I lived and breathed by the stuff that he said.”
Working in a big company with a lot of people reporting to him, Bray embraced coaching others so much so that he became a certified executive coach, helping people manage their personal growth and career development. It satisfied his love of sociology alongside his business acumen.
He credits much of this balance to the head of the sociology department at IU. “I go to the head of the sociology department and tell him that I want to change my major to sociology,” he said. “He looks at me and he says, ‘Why the hell would you change your major to sociology? You're in business … if you like sociology, keep taking the courses, and get a minor in it.’ Which I did. Thank God I didn't change to sociology.”
His career brought him back to Paducah where he looked to get involved in the community. “We were building a new airport terminal, Barkley Regional. I ended up being chairman of the airport board and started getting a little publicity on TV and in the newspaper,” he said.
This led to his bid for mayor. “People liked what I said and my approach to things. I had a couple people independently ask me to run.”
As a Certified Public Accountant, Jim Lienhoop found comfort in the numbers as he recognized his challenges were more with people skills. Active in civic life in Columbus — a city of nearly 50,000 — he found himself volunteering to serve on boards in his community throughout his three-decade accounting career. As he planned to retire, the suggestion was made that he should run for mayor. So, he did. And it’s a role he has held since taking office in January of 2016.
“Most of the mentors I had in my professional life were guys and gals I met after I graduated,” said Lienhoop.
One mentor — Dave Windley, a founder of Blue and Company, the CPA firm where he spent 30 years — was instrumental in teaching him how to handle people. “It was one of the first times I realized I was a better accountant than he was, but his EQ was off the charts. He got along with everybody, and it didn’t matter how mad the client was, he could calm them down. You’ve got to learn how to do that, how to handle people. That was really beneficial.”
Another skill Lienhoop picked up from the relationship was how to be a good mentor. “He was one of the few who ever really took an interest in my career. I worked for a lot of different guys, but it was always ‘You do this, I’ll be back in the morning. You do this, I’ll be back in a couple hours.’ But Dave was helping plot what happened next year and the year after that. That was really amazing.”
Although he doesn’t see mentorship as something that was emphasized throughout his college career, he does credit the Delt chapter with preparing him for public life. Especially when things didn’t quite go his way.
“As an officer, I was treasurer when I was there. If you did something that wasn’t quite right, screwed up, you made a mistake and now you’re going down there with 50 guys,” he said in reference to chapter meetings. “They aren’t going to be shy about telling you, ‘You screwed this up, dork face.’ And so, it kind of prepares you for getting a thicker skin, being able to handle the criticism that would inevitably come with some kind of public role.”
He embraced his time as an undergraduate as a unique opportunity to make mistakes. “We were allowed to run our own show and to be able to do that at the ages of 18 to 23,” he said. “The Greek system provides that, and you don’t see it anywhere else. It’s an opportunity for you to experiment and to make mistakes. We all make mistakes when we’re younger, and it’s good to be able to make them when the stakes aren’t that high. It was just a great place to grow up and to experience or figure out how to get along with others.”
At the same time in 2016 when Lienhoop was beginning his term, about an hour north of Columbus, Greg Ballard just ended his term as mayor of Indianapolis, the 16th largest city in the U.S. with just under 900,000 residents. Ballard was a self-proclaimed unknown who unseated a two-term incumbent in what was described as possibly the biggest upset in Indiana political history. While he may not have been publicly known at the time of the election in 2007, his long career in the U.S. Marine Corps where he served as a lieutenant colonel instilled a drive to get involved in the big endeavors that have a lasting impact.
For Ballard, he holds some regrets about not embracing opportunities to learn from others as a college student, as simply showing up to class was sometimes a challenge. After graduation, however, joining the structured environment of the Marine Corps proved to be a smart decision. There he found men who helped him find his own structure and aspire for greater things.
After 23 years with the Marines, Ballard found his desire to be part of something bigger than himself was not diminishing. “My kids were in college at the time, down at IU. And there was some sort of urge. I was thinking U.S. representative. I was thinking, do I want to do that sort of thing?” he said.
He was soon approached by a couple people who told him he had the skill set to be the mayor. “With me, you have to understand, no one in the political scene on either part even knew who I was. I mean, no one in Indianapolis other than my close personal friends,” he said. “So for me to become the mayor at that time is an exceptional long shot. A million to one shot. And I was lucky enough that it happened to me. It was an oddity to say the least, but it took care of that longing of being part of something bigger than myself.”
In 2016, Ballard found himself back in an academic environment, but this time as a visiting fellow at the University of Indianapolis, where part of his responsibility was to mentor students. After leading a staff — through two four-year mayoral terms — who all went on to successful careers beyond his tenure, being a mentor is a role he performs with ease.
All three men have found success in all aspects of their lives. From their college education to professional careers to family life. And all three have no plans to slow down in retirement.
Ballard, a man in the process of writing his third book, recently had double knee replacement surgery. He said, “I don’t recommend that, but I told my doctor ‘I’m on vacation from my retirement.’ That’s what I’m doing right now, but I’m turning 68 in November, and I want something else to do. I’m looking for something else where I can make a difference.”
Lienhoop failed his first attempt at retirement. “That’s why I’m here,” he said. “I would like to think that I have a pretty active mind. I like to keep busy. I like to keep engaged in things to do.”
At the same time, he has a grandson in San Francisco who he plans to spend time with. “I’m going to do that. There’ll be an end here, but you go do something else,” he said. “It’s just another challenge. We’ve all had challenges that we face and overcome. It’s just one more, so you figure it out.”
Although he is at the start of his term as mayor, Bray looks to retirement as a time to stay busy. “Getting up with a purpose helps elongate your life,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s longer, but it’s certainly a healthier life. With something to get up and try to accomplish, it keeps your focus and gives you purpose.”
Throughout their lives, Indiana University has also held a special place in their hearts. All three have been die-hard Hoosier fans and look back on their time on campus and as undergraduates in the Beta Alpha Chapter with fondness. As they reminisce those days gone by, they are optimistic about the chapter’s return after five years off campus.
Speaking from his own experience, Ballard sees the need for a new approach. “This is a chance to replenish and make a difference in young men’s lives. I think we need to take advantage of that,” he said.
Lienhoop fondly remembers all the firsts he experienced with Fraternity brothers. “I particularly think about some of the travel,” he said. “It was the first time I was west of the Mississippi, the first time I saw salt water and sand, the first time I saw the Statute of Liberty.” He looks forward to other Hoosiers getting to experience what the Delts have to offer.
“There are plenty of young men who need a bit of direction, need the opportunity to live in a group setting and have some responsibility for their own lives. The Fraternity offers that,” Lienhoop said.
“My experience was so pivotal for me. I’m all in on the recolonization,” Bray said. “But I also have a sense that Greek life has changed a lot. There are lots of things that affect young men. Going into the new model, whatever it is, there has to be a model that’s implemented that the Fraternity can sustain itself on.”
Always looking toward the future, the trio emphasized the importance of considering the long-term effects of everything they do. In doing so, they look forward to the legacy each hopes to leave behind.
“I’m a change agent. I’m really trying to move the community forward,” said Bray. “I think about when I would step away. I would want to be able to transition, as much as I could, and make sure that the right people were leading. Otherwise, let’s say I just served for four years and walked away and don’t stay involved. I’m not sure that’s going to get the job done. We’re working on projects so far in the future, I don’t know if that makes any sense.”
Likewise, Ballard’s approach to his days as mayor was to always consider the future of Indianapolis. “I was not in it for me, or for the party. I was in this for long-term health. They [the administrative staff] knew when they would bring me something my first question would be ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ It was never a political question. It was always, ‘what’s the right thing to do for the long-term health of Indianapolis?’” he said. “What happened because of all that was the thing I’m probably proudest of. I think it set up long-term [success].”
Three mayors. Three IU Hoosiers. Three brothers in Delt. They keep an eye on each other, crossing paths here and there. As mentors, community leaders and change agents they can all stay busy into the future knowing they will always look back on a job well done.